At the APA Central* I went to the book session on Jesse Prinz's Beyond Human Nature.** I also went to Mohan Matthen's talk on multi-modal perception. I'll try to bring the two together in this post in discussing the ontological status of the withdrawn generative matrix which seems to fit both Prinz's view of biological mechanisms that allow cultural traits and Matthen's view of retained isotropic images that allow perspectival images.
So what we see here in the notion of bio-cultural plasticity are mechanisms that allow for the production of defined traits but that do not themselves have a fixed definition, as no one production exhausts the ability for future diverse productions. That is, the mechanisms withdraw behind the produced traits; we can only infer their existence from the diversity of produced traits. So we have to grant the withdrawn mechanisms a different ontological status than that of the produced traits. We encounter the diverse traits, but never the mechanisms that generate them. (That diversity of traits is both cross-cultural synchronic and ontogenetically diachronic.)
Mohan's talk had a much more restricted scope, but I think invoked something of the same ontological structure. The key point is that perceptual images retained in memory are isotropic, that is, not bound to any one perspective. By contrast, any image we call up will have a perspective. To use Mohan's example, a memory of a childhood home can produce diverse images in which we travel through the home from front-to-back, back-to-front, along a diagonal, etc. Here I think is the same structure: the isotropic image is a generative matrix capable of producing diverse images, but is never directly encountered. Hence it withdraws behind its products and its existence must be inferred.
So the question in both cases is what is the ontological difference between the withdrawn generative matrix and the generated traits or images? Both matrix and trait / image are real but don't have the same modal status. Deleuze would call this the difference between virtual and actual; the actual exists, but the virtual insists. But that particular terminology isn't really as important as recognizing that there is some difference of ontological status that needs articulation.
*I also went to the book session on Cordelia Fine's Delusions of Gender. I'll post on that in a few days.
***Prinz's The Conscious Brain has a chapter devoted to "neuro-functionalism," which similarly seeks to escape the opposition of identity theory and functionalism in philosophy of mind.